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Wednesday, July 08, 2015
The uses of Islamic revisionism
Two months back, one Steve Chambers posted this at American Thinker: Don't Draw Mohammed, Debate the Origins of Islam. I figured that I should first see what are his terms of debate, and then see why he's doing this.
Chambers offers a summary of revisionist scholarship. I have nits to pick here - for Chambers' own good. I mostly wonder why he didn't mention Yehuda Nevo since he was on the topic of what "Muhammad" meant [UPDATE 12/12/2015: I've moved that here].
Otherwise I don't really have a problem with Chambers's summary. He has expressed the revisionists' views good-enough-ly. He gets extra-credit for not citing all of Nevo's views, some of which were weird (like that "pagan temple" in the Negev - just, no). Chambers does recommend at least the first one of the so-far-translated Inarah books but he keeps a discreet distance from similarly weird essays in these, too; so his essay doesn't cite, for instance, Volker Popp's ravings.
Where Chambers is most valuable is that he seems to propose that non-Muslims who object to Islamic claims might cobble together a theory on how to object. I have seen several such proposals over the last decade: Muhammad didn't exist [Spencer's Did Muhammad Exist]; Muhammad did exist and was an evil lunatic [Spencer again, The Truth about Muhammad, mainly from Ibn Ishaq's disgruntled Arabian-Jewish sources - best I can tell]; "Muhammad" might have had politically-useful material foisted upon him when later warlords, during the various fitan, experimented with non-Christian divine-right theory (me). These three arguments are not compatible.
I suppose I have my own ideas and I'm not an unbiased observer. But I do agree with Chambers that the non-scholarly need some kind of united opinion. It is difficult to complain to the Muslim that, say, the Qur'an is self-contradictory when the Muslim can observe that we "Orientalists" cannot agree on what our big problem is with Islam. Those who reject Islam further need to stand on a consensus from revisionist scholars, so that Muslims don't find it so easy to resist them. The scholars themselves are too busy doing scholarship, so the Islam-skeptics will have to compile this set of principles for themselves. I guess that's where Ibn Warraq comes in.
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